Newt Gingrich, a polarizing Republican icon during his time as House Speaker in the 1990s, still gets his licks in. As a pundit on Fox News (NWS), he attacks President Barack Obama for giving Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner "dictatorial" power. He collects speaking fees of up to $50,000 to rail against the federal financial bailout. But on one topic—moving medicine from paper records to digital—Gingrich, 65, has evolved into a harbinger of harmony.
Years before most others in Washington, he preached that computerizing hospital charts and patient histories would save lives and money. Now his for-profit Center for Health Transformation, operating from book-filled offices on K Street in the heart of Washington's lobbying district, advises GE (GE), IBM (IBM), and Microsoft (MSFT). His 94 clients, which also include hospitals and insurers, pay up to $200,000 apiece annually to get Gingrich's guidance. Lately he has been advising on how to grab some of the $19.6 billion in federal stimulus money.
Backed by a staff of 23, Newt, as everyone calls him, says he doesn't promote one client over another. He isn't a registered lobbyist. "What we market is soup," he explains. "We're not marketing Campbell's (CPB)."
Gingrich opens doors on Capitol Hill, pairs potential business partners, and finds hospital customers for tech vendors. He proffers policy prescriptions in speeches and writes newspaper opinion pieces with Democratic senators such as John Kerry (D-Mass.), the former Presidential candidate. Privately he consults with senior Obama Administration health-care officials, such as Andrea Palm, a former aide to Hillary Clinton in the 1990s who now serves as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Legislation at the Health & Human Services Dept. Gingrich and the department's new overseer of health technology, David Blumenthal, have been e-mailing.
Gingrich says his organization, which he started in 2003, promotes "real-life solutions" gleaned from "collaboration with leaders." Mentioning GE and Siemens, he says: "Some of the vendors are ...more aware of the potential for dramatic change. Others are so busy trying to make this quarter's sales goal that they're not doing much strategic thinking." He politely declines to identify the latter.
David Merritt, a Gingrich top lieutenant and a former adviser to Presidential candidate John McCain (R-Ariz.), says many of the center's clients these days have an identical question: "How do I get the money [from the stimulus program]?"